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Holiday Listening In Brief: Two New CDs And A Modern Classic

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The NOLA Players, Christmastime in New Orleans (Verve/Aim Higher)

A cross-generational and cross-racial gathering of Crescent City jazz veterans generates spirited versions of traditional Christmas music. Some of the players are well known outside of New Orleans; bassist Roland Guerin, percussionist Jason Marsalis, saxophonist Tony DaGradi and trumpeter Bobby Campo among them. All eighteen musicians have the celebrated N’Yawlins feeling for rhythm and good times. Campo’s first notes of “Jingle Bells” over a modified parade beat morph into a series of solos featuring him, Dagradi and drummer Geoff Clapp, followed by a stretch of group improvisation by all the horns and the rhythm section. “Away In A Manger” is funky, “Silent Night” a peaceful oasis, “Go Tell It On The Mountain” a series of gospel declarations. It’s a joyous collection.

The Beautiful Day—Kurt Elling Sings Christmas

Elling’s singing has acquired new depth and maturity that may have begun two or three yearsago when he concentrated for a time on interpreting Frank Sinatra’s legacy. Here, he indeed sings Christmas, but includes just four traditional melodies and a double handful of less familiar pieces that includes three stimulating impressions inspired by the classic “Good King Wenceslaus.” He bases his own new composition, “The Michigan Farm,” on a melody by Norwegian classical composer Edward Grieg and adapts songs from Leslie Bricusse’s score for the 1970 motion picture musical Scrooge. Elling brings to this album what I have often found missing from his singing—deep feeling—and it’s a pleasure to experience it. The duet with his daughter Luiza on Bricusse’s title song brings the collection to a charming close.

Hans Teuber, et al, Winter: An Origin Records holiday collection (Origin)

This 2002 collection is a perennial holiday favorite. Alto and tenor saxophonist Teuber, guitarist Dave Peterson, bassist Jeff Johnson and drummer John Bishop interpret ten standard and traditional winter songs. Horace Silver’s “Peace” and Peterson’s “December” and “Winter Waltz,” meld beautifully with” “Greensleeves,” “Silver Bells,” “Coventry Carol” and the others. The interpretations are relaxed and reflective. Teuber’s tenor sax solo in “What Are You Doing New Years Eve?” is notable for the inventiveness of his harmonic turns. On alto in this sample track, he waltzes through “Greensleeves,” and Johnson’s bass solo flows with vigor.

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This story appears courtesy of Rifftides by Doug Ramsey.
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